When a school improves, so does the neighborhood around it. And when that neighborhood is invested in that school’s success, the outcomes are even greater.
At least, that’s how it’s happening at Fullerton School, where strong leadership and backing from community partners have led to gains that ripple out into the larger community.
At the recent annual neighborhood summit hosted by Slavic Village Development, Fullerton Principal Kevin Payton received an award recognizing his impact on the community. The nomination for the award came from Slavic Village’s own residents.
Cleveland City Councilman Anthony Brancatelli, whose ward includes Slavic Village, said the principal's impact on the school and neighborhood has been remarkable.
"Payton has been a real inspiration in how he has opened the doors of Fullerton to the public in a much greater way," Brancatelli said. "People have really rallied around the efforts that he's put into improving our neighborhood."
Slavic Village Development is a non-profit community development corporation serving the North and South Broadway neighborhoods of Cleveland. Natalie Friedl, who directs the CDC’s MyCom & P-16 initiatives, called Fullerton a “rising star.” Payton has been at the helm of Fullerton for just three years, but he’s become a symbol of hope for the school and community, Friedl said.
“You can walk into Fullerton any day and find parents all around and teachers who are excited,” Friedl said. “The environment is structured and welcoming and parents want to be there.”
The principal regularly attends the neighborhood's P-16 meetings, Friedl said. With funding from the Third Federal Foundation and the Cleveland Foundation, the MyCom and Broadway P-16 partners collaborate to ensue that every young person in Slavic Village experienced high-quality learning that builds on their strengths and passions, expands their resiliency and helps them find fulfillment and purpose, Friedl said.
The Broadway-Slavic Village neighborhood that is home to Fullerton is one of Cleveland's poorest, with 61.8 percent of children living below poverty, according to the Center for Community Solutions. Fullerton was designated as an “investment school” in the Cleveland Plan, the District’s blueprint for educational reform. Partnering with United Way of Greater Cleveland, the District's lowest performing schools were partnered with community agencies to strengthen academic performance.
Another after-school program called Designed 4 Destiny is an active partner in the Slavic Village Reads campaign, which promotes literacy and a love for reading through student-led events. That group is also part of the Little Free Library at Fullerton and helps with tutoring and reading to younger students. Recently, the students were part of a “Safety for Our Sisters” conference to teach girls about ways to stay safe and to learn self-defense.
One of the driving forces of Fullerton’s momentum are its parents, Friedl said. In addition to promoting strong attendance at parent-teacher conferences, Fullerton encourages parents to play an active role in their children’s education, said Nicole Bentkowski, the school’s curriculum and instruction specialist.
Fullerton has two parent events each month, one in the morning and one at night, to accommodate parents' busy schedules, Bentkowski said. And parents are encouraged to call or stop by to talk to their children’s teachers.
“We strongly believe in being a support for parents and always having an open door policy,” she said. “If parents have questions about the curriculum or what their scholar is expected to know, they know that we are here to talk.”
Parents have had an equally impressive presence at community activities organized by both Slavic Village Development and neighborhood block clubs, including parent book clubs and leadership development groups, Friedl said. She credits this in part to the fact that Payton has kept his finger on the pulse of the neighborhood and made a point to keep parents in the know.
Payton said the work he and his staff do is part of Fullerton's mission to extend learning beyond the classroom.
“We work hard to teach our students to be productive citizens,” he said. “We take pride in teaching our students not only how to behave in school but also to make good choices outside the school.”